A Story of murder in the bricks
The former Swan Public House at the Hythe holds a few secrets in her brickwork, where initials, names and dates have been scratched into some of the bricks at the front, forming some unusual graffiti. There are quite a few from various dates, some more recent than others, however one stands out as being a little more interesting than the others. The inscription reads: “W. Corder hung August 11, 1828.” These words refer to the hanging of William Corder, who the year before on Friday 18th May 1827 murdered his lover in the peaceful village of Polstead in Suffolk, whom he shot, burying her body in a red barn. As to why this particular event was scratched in the brick or who was responsible is unknown, but given that this was a major news story at the time, the person responsible may have had connections to Polstead or simply scratching the event on the pub wall for all to read.
In 1827, the local squire William Corder aged 24 and Maria Marten aged 26, the mole catcher’s daughter, had been having a relationship for over a year, something that Corder apparently wished to keep a secret, particularly as Marten was expecting his child. She gave birth early that year but the baby died soon after, and as she was unmarried she was concerned for her reputation. She and Corder decided to elope to Ipswich and start again where they would not arouse any suspicion as to their real status and arranged to meet one evening at the red barn. Corder had a different plan and here Maria was murdered and Corder fled the area going first to Ipswich and then towards London, where he kept up the pretence that Maria was alive and well, by writing letters to her family. Maria’s body was discovered in the barn some months later, and Corder became a wanted man, eventually being found living in Brentford with his new wife, Mary Moore, running a boarding house. He was taken back to Bury St. Edmunds for a much publicised trial on 7th August, which lasted less a few hours, where a jury found him guilty of murder.
At the end of his trial Corder heard the judge, Baron Alexander, read out his sentence. “William Corder; you have been found guilty of the murder of Maria Marten. It is the sentence of this court that you be taken to the place from whence you came and then to a place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead and after your body shall be sent for dissection. May the Lord have mercy on your sole!”
Four days later, he was escorted from his cell to the awaiting gallows, which was surrounded by upwards of seven thousand people all shouting and cheering as the procession passed. As the hangman placed the black cap over Corder’s head, he was heard to say the words: “I’m guilty, my sentence is just, I deserve my fate and may God have mercy on my soul.” The rope was placed around his neck, he was pushed, the rope now rigid under his weight, the crowd cheered at the justice they had witnessed. A few moments later the hangman pulled on his legs and William Corder was no more.
The events of that night gave rise to one of the most notorious crimes in British History and the story of the Red Barn murders has been covered in books and plays ever since, giving rise to radio and films in more recent times. The story was made into a film in 1935 starring Tod Slaughter called: Maria Marten – Murder at The Red Barn.
Note: If you look at Corder’s neck, the rope marks are still visible!